We’re teaching in uncertain times. Many of our schools have gone virtual or hybrid out of necessity, and we don’t know what to expect from day-to-day. It’s unsettling.
However uncertain we feel, our students feel it more. Especially our students with learning differences.
We’ve discussed culturally responsive teaching and racial equity so far in this series. Today, I want to consider three specific ways we can make virtual learning more equitable for our students with learning differences. These tips are not all-inclusive, but they provide a good start toward equity in a virtual setting.
Our students all have different learning needs and home environments. Some of our students lack access to reliable WiFi. English may not be their first language. Others have learning differences that make distance learning a challenge. Today, we’re going to discuss…
How to Make Virtual Learning More Equitable in 3 Steps
In considering ways to make virtual learning more equitable, I want to give three specific tips that we can use as a checklist for our lessons as well as fixes if you can’t check a box on your lesson.
Step 1: Is your text flattened?
I’m guilty as charged of this. I don’t want text and images to float around on a Google Slide. And this is fine for most of my students. But some of my students use Google Read&Write to read and translate text for them. If my text is flattened, they can’t use an internet reader.
This isn’t an issue in the classroom where we would read the text together in a small group or the ESOL teacher would pull a group out. It’s a big deal in virtual learning when students are doing the activity alone.
The Fix: Pull out the text.
*** Type the text in a Doc. Reasonable for some–not so reasonable for the typing-challenged like me. Don’t worry. There are other options.
*** Save the Slide or flattened PDF as an image, load it to your Drive, and open it as a Google Docs. You’ll have to clean it up, but this is an effective shortcut if your student needs to use a reader.
How to Make Virtual Learning More Equitable: Make Flat Text Dynamic
- Take a picture of your worksheet or scan it as an image.
- If it’s flattened text on a Google Slide, download the slide with flat text as an image (JPEG or PNG).
- Upload the image to your Drive.
- Right click the image and open as Google Docs.
- Docs pulls the text out of the image, but you will need to clean it up a bit!
*** Record an audio file of you or a translator reading the document and embed it in the Google Slide.
How to Make Virtual Learning More Equitable: Add Audio to Google Slides
- Record yourself reading the slide with your computer record tool or a program like Screencastify. Only record the text from one slide at a time.
- Save the sound recording in your Drive.
- Open the Slide you want to insert it into, select “Insert,” and select “Audio.”
- Select the audio track you want.
- Students will play the recording by clicking the audio icon.
Step 2: Are you offering ample time?
During less uncertain times, we might start something in class and instruct students to complete it for homework. We need to rethink that in order to make virtual learning more equitable.
Some of our students have spotty access to WiFi. Some are having to pick up extra shifts at work to supplement their family’s income. Some are primary caregivers for siblings and cousins. We cannot assume they’ll be able to complete an assignment in one day.
The Fix: Spread out your assignments during virtual learning.
*** Use a template and structure your lessons around it. Consistency is key for making virtual learning more equitable.
*** Give students a week to complete each lesson.
*** Be gracious and accept their excuses if they need more time. I’m not a fan of late work, but during virtual learning, I’m operating under different rules. Since my students aren’t with me during the school day, I can’t see what’s going on. I plan to err in their favor. We need to exercise compassion.
Step 3: Are you overwhelming your students?
This can happen on two levels–content and method.
The standards we’re charged with teaching in our content areas are built for a 180-day school year. We should assume we have about half that time when teaching virtually.
There are so many amazing tech tools out there that it’s tempting to try them all. But when we do that, we’re asking our students to learn a new tool on top of the content. That’s overwhelming.
The Fix: Keep it simple.
*** Pare down your standards to the essential. It will be most helpful if you can do that with a content team. If you don’t have the luxury of working with one, find one online. Look for a Facebook group to join for your content area. Search hashtags on Twitter. Start the conversation and get feedback.
*** Try to limit the tech tools students will use to two or three and teach them upfront. For example, this year, my students are using Schoology, Nearpod, and Google Apps. I’m letting a lot of really good ones slide, but I want my students to focus on the content, not the tool.
This doesn’t mean I’m not using more tools. For example, I’ll use Screencastify to record my lessons. To make my videos more equitable and accessible during virtual learning, I’ll add closed captioning using YouTube Studio. But students don’t have to learn that tool in order to watch a video.
How to Make Virtual Learning More Equitable: Add Captions to Videos
- Record your video and upload it to YouTube.
- Set it as unlisted so that only people with a link can access it.
- On YouTube, go to “Your Videos.”
- Select “YouTube Studio.”
- Click “Subtitles.”
- Select the film you want to edit.
- Click the 3 dots. Select “Edit,” and once inside, “Edit” again.
- Clean up YouTube’s auto captions. Publish Edits.
- Either link your students to the video on YouTube or download the SBV or SRT file to add to your video elsewhere.
*** Check-in with your students regularly to see how they’re doing. This is important for all our students but especially for those with learning differences. Don’t assume that just because they’re completing assignments that they’re okay.
As we embark on a year of uncertainty, it’s important that we pay as much attention to how we deliver our content as we do to the content itself. What are you doing to make virtual learning more equitable? Reach out and let me know.